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Photo by Taton Moïse on Unsplash

It seems to be such a common refrain in science news: “Einstein proved right again”. At once comforting yet disappointing, a violation of Einstein’s theory would mean the potential for new physics and a new understanding of our reality. Einstein always seems to be right.

But is he?

In reality, Einstein’s theory has been fit to our observations of the universe. …

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Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

While we all like to think of ourselves as unique individuals, quantum physics has long suggested that that notion is an illusion. One of the core tenets of Buddhism that puts it at odds with most other religions, particularly Abrahamic religions, is that there is no Self, no core or essential being that makes a person a person. …

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Maxwell’s demon. Image by Wikipedia user User:Htkym.

In the 19th century, James Clerk Maxwell, who developed the modern theory of electromagnetism, introduced Maxwell’s demon and the theory of stochastic thermodynamics was conceived.

Maxwell’s intent is to show how, even though the 2nd law of thermodynamics, that entropy must increase, is always observed in macroscopic systems, it is a statistical law that can be violated at the microscopic level.

Normally cooling systems use changes in pressure and/or volume to change temperature, which increases the entropy in other ways, not violating the 2nd law. But suppose you could do it with some microscopic process without changing volume?

The basic idea behind the thought experiment is that you have some kind of “demon” that can make microscopic adjustments to a system. Maxwell’s thought is that, if you have two systems, A and B, that are in thermal equilibrium, you can cool A while heating B, by having the demon open a little door from A to B for fast moving particles in A and slow moving particles in B that happen to be on a trajectory to hit the door. Eventually, the two systems will be at different temperatures. …


Tim Andersen, Ph.D.

Studied statistical mechanics, general relativity, and quantum field theory. Principal Research Scientist at Georgia Tech.

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